Monday, December 31, 2012

As Zinnias Melt into the Neck of His Guitar

It was about this time last year that I was introduced to the music of Jackie Leven, a singer/songwriter from Scotland who had recently passed from this world. Tony Zimnoch, a fellow blogger, posted a video to honor his passing. It would not be the first time I was late to a party. I discovered Jack Kerouac just weeks after his passing, something I lamented as the weeks rolled into months and then years. How does one grieve for the loss of someone with whom you have never been physically present?  Sometimes, it's their words. And sometimes, it's the sound of their voice, transcending any notion of time and place.

The video Tony posted, "My Philosophy," lead me on a voyage to a new world that continues to haunt me. There's something about the depth of his voice and his vision of life that speaks to my soul. If you haven't yet been introduced, please allow me the honor.

Here is Jackie Leven and "My Philosophy:

And forgive me, I cannot help myself, I must include his musical adaptation of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." These are such good places to start, especially on this eve of a new year.

Jackie Leven  (June 18, 1950 - November 14, 2011)

Happy New Year, Everyone. Together, we can create something better.

Tony's site, which is always intriguing:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Rene Magritte, "Face of Genius"

I've been messing around with "Soundcloud," recording a few things, having fun with it. This is a little experiment with my last post, "Standing in a Field at Midnight." I hope it's worth a listen, as a place to start... Here we go, into the wild blue yonder....


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Standing in a Field at Midnight

Yesterday, at the first hint of daylight, we stepped outside together, Buddy and I, and as I waited for him on the porch, breathing in the icy morning air and listening to the crows calling from the field, it felt as though it could be the very first morning anywhere. Perhaps this primordial feeling of leaning toward the light was due to the evening before, Christmas Eve.

I had more or less settled in for the night and was already in my robe when a friend called. I mentioned that the blues were trying to find their way in and I was thinking of going to bed. Knowing that was no way to turn in for the night, he talked with me for a few minutes, then suggested I get dressed and take a walk under the night sky, shake off whatever it was that was starting to feel heavy. I had to admit, it sounded like the perfect remedy. With a promise that I would let him know when I'd arrived back at the house safe and sound, I got dressed, bundled up against the cold December night, and down the driveway I went.

As I got closer to the road, the sounds of the river came rushing in along with the peace that had earlier eluded me. I stood above its banks, listening to it move around the little island in the middle, past the elbow where wildflowers bloom in the spring and early summer, down to the bridge below. The lights on the barn at the farm across the river cast a soft orange glow on the water and the ice. 

I walked a little further down the road, between the river and the field, keeping to the edge where the tree's shadows were dark and dense, yet even the bits of remaining leaves, still clinging to the ends of their long, slender branches, were clearly defined. It was as though the trees had lain down on the shoulder of the road to take their rest. I stood there, watching their shadows sleep. Then, I turned towards the field behind me and looked up.

A few million stars had quietly congregated in the night sky. For several minutes I watched them while a three-quarter moon looked down on the snow covered field where I stood. I could feel myself being replenished by the night, by the moon, the stars, and the river. Perhaps that moment could have become more perfect, but I really don't see how.

After a few more minutes, I walked back to the house, cold chin tucked into my collar, thinking how easy it would be to simply walk into the next universe, the one where everything is waiting.

Image from NASA

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In the Presence of Mystery


It was a night like all the others. Empty
of everything save memory. He thought
he'd got to the other side of things.
But he hadn't. He read a little
and listened to the radio. Looked out the window
for a while. Then went upstairs. In bed
realized he'd left the radio on.
But closed his eyes anyway. Inside the deep night,
as the house sailed west, he woke up
to hear voices murmuring. And froze.
Then understood it was only the radio.
He got up and went downstairs. He had
to pee anyway. A little rain
that hadn't been there before was
falling outside. The voices
on the radio faded and then came back
as if from a long way. It wasn't
the same station any longer. A man's voice
said something about Borodin,
and his opera Prince Igor. The woman
he said this to agreed, and laughed.
Began to tell a little of the story.
The man's hand drew back from the switch.
Once more he found himself in the presence
of mystery. Rain. Laughter. History.
Art. The hegemony of death.
He stood there, listening.

~ Raymond Carver

Photo from tumblr

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Perhaps it is time for my admission: I do not like Christmas.

It wasn't always this way. I grew up in a family that looked forward to it with almost the same enthusiasm we had for summer. We didn't go gaga over gift giving, but we always received what we wanted (within reason) and occasionally it was something that took us completely by surprise, like the rather well-stocked miniature bake set I received one year (I still have the tiny muffin tin), and, later, the ice skates that did not turn me into Peggy Fleming but I had fun trying.

My enthusiasm might have waned during my first marriage. We had fun decorating the tree, but putting it up was something else altogether. I have no idea why we could not get that tree up without a fight breaking out, but it happened, without fail, for ten years. Even a concerted effort not to go there ended in failure. Fighting over a Christmas tree seems a bit oxymoronic (heavy on the moron), but I suppose it's time to let bygones be bygones. It took a while, but we are friends now. Perhaps because we no longer have to put up a Christmas tree together.

My second marriage fared only slightly better. We couldn't count on a fight for that occasion, they just showed up haphazardly and that's where the fun came in, the element of surprise. Eventually, my husband had the good sense to humor me until the deed was done (correctly, I might add), and the household was happy once again. And thus another ten years.

During my brief third try (if one could call it that), putting that tree up turned out to be one of the best parts of the marriage. JB wasn't much for celebrations and so he stayed out of my way. And that's how that worked, for two whole Christmases. One of the things that made it magical was I got to put up the tree in a large rounded corner of the arts and crafts bungalow we purchased right after our marriage. It was a gorgeous tree covered in purple and silver decorations with clusters of glass grapes, apples and pears wrapped in velvet, and all manner of bejeweled birds. Garlands of crystalline snowflakes graced the open stairs. Cool house, cool tree, short marriage. Still friends.

Now, it's not that I have come to dislike Christmas, I just don't see the point. It has veered so far from any original meaning it might have had that it's become a caricature of its original if not misguided intention. Yes, my children will come over and we will exchange simple, locally made gifts by folks like Cyrus Swan, a friend and local potter. My older son likes the occasional fancy cigar and so I sometimes contribute. Would it be wrong for me to say I like standing in a good-sized, walk-in humidor and picking them out for him? I suppose it would, but there it is. I never said I would make Mother of the Year, but my kids still like me and come around regularly, and that's a good thing. I like them, too. I like the people they are and I stake no claim on that outcome. They are who they are and that's that. They'll be over on Christmas Day.

Oh, alright, I suppose I could put up that little table tree I still have, with a few of the purple and silver decorations I saved from the house on River Street. I carted those fool things out to Santa Fe and back, so maybe they deserve to be reprised, just this once, and I might as well put on my Johnny Mathis Christmas CD ... excuse me for a minute while I pull this punch bowl out of the farthest corner of the cupboard, and maybe my mother's crystal candy dish. While I'm there might as well get out her Fiestaware gravy boat so I don't forget to use it. My god, she made good gravy ... I'm telling you, it's a vortex ...

The photograph is of the bicycle atop my garage for no discernible reason, but it was there when I arrived, complete with Christmas lights, and so it shall remain.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

They Called Her Pearl

When I was barely 16, I sat down with the guidance counselor at my high school who proceeded to ask me what my future plans were, so I told him. I wanted to be a war correspondent. He replied, "Oh, a photojournalist?" I replied, 'No, a war correspondent.' I'm pretty sure I saw him hesitate before he realized I wasn't kidding. I was being specific. So, instead of trying to dissuade me, he told me what classes I should be prepared to take in order to achieve my goals. This being the late 1960's, long before the advent of computers and cell phones, the idea of taking stenography left me cold. But, I did not voice this to him, and I wasn't deterred.

I was ultimately thwarted by my own choices. Early marriage and motherhood did not allow for globetrotting journalism. Looking back, I feel fairly confident in saying I'm okay with that. It still sits in the back of my mind as something that would have led for an interesting life, but I found other ways to take life out of the mundane, and they have served me well. I also get to remind myself every day that it's not over yet. I may not find myself hunkered down in the jungle, or behind a barricade next to a bombed out building with bullets flying, while I'm trying to snap a picture and tell a story I think the world needs to know, but one never knows where life will take them.

For many years I collected National Geographic and Life magazines that contained stories written and photographed by Vietnam War correspondents. More than one held a story from my hero, Dickey Chapelle. Dickey was a girl from Wisconsin whose life took her into the heart of war, if there is such a thing, where she witnessed and recorded, so all the world could see, its harsh reality.  Wherever she went, she wore a pair of pearl earrings, small bits of beauty among the horror and a reminder to me of the biblical admonition: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine."

On November 4, 1965, while on assignment near Chu Lai, Vietnam, she died doing what she loved, perhaps was even born to do, still wearing those pearl earrings. Her friend and fellow correspondent, Henri Huett, took her picture as this brave and honorable woman received last rites. I cannot speak for her, but cannot imagine she would have wanted her death recorded any other way. A few years later, Huett, along with several other correspondents, would lose their lives when their helicopter was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

In January of 2005, I was given a book called Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina. It contains the stories and photographs of many people I have come to admire. It covers journalists from all over the globe who lost their lives, including those from the "other side" of these conflicts. It remains among my prized possessions. Inside, my friend inscribed: "These brave men and women are an example to all of us. May we face our future with hope, courage and love." And, despite all the obstacles we put in our own way, I like to think we're still doing just that, although certainly not at the level of these very dedicated people who gave their lives to bring the truth to the world. I would be happy with even an infinitesimal part of their courage.

While looking through this book again today, I found this final message from Associated Press reporter, Mean Leange, who was in the Phnom Penh post office, where he had been receiving reports from other Cambodian reporters, shortly before Cambodia descended into hell, falling to the Khmer Rouge on April 16, 1975.

I alone in post office, losing contact with our guys. Only guy seeing me is Moonface at 13:00 [1:00 P.M.]. I have so numerous stories to cover.

Only call from Seang [an AP reporter], still at Hotel Le Phnom. Seang told me black-jacketed guys [the Khmer Rouge] want his bike.

I feel rather trembling. Do not know how to file out stories.

How quiet the streets. Every minute changes. At 13:00 local my wife came and saw me here at post office saying that Monatio [French for the National Movement, or Khmer Rouge] threatened my family out of the house. Vichith lost his camera to the black-jacketed guys.

Appreciate instructions. I not admitted to Le Phnom Hotel this morning into Red Cross security zone. Need press card. I have none. Last night they admitted me to Le Phnom.

The Red Cross ordered removal of all belongings whatsoever having military aspect.

I, with a small typewriter, shuttle between the post office and home.

May be last cable today and forever. 

George Esper, chief correspondent for the Associated Press in Indochina, replied in a message to Mean Leange, telling him to leave the post office immediately and seek safety wherever he could.

Mean lived in obscurity for a few years, hiding his involvement with the AP. Eventually, he was found out through his own inexplicable admission. Wanting for some time to return to Phnom Phenh, he asked for permission to do so from the Khmer Rouge, thereby revealing his true identity. His request resulted in his immediate execution.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunlight Through the Pines

Well, I got my wish. Several inches of soft new snow is resting all around me. But the best part is waking up to clear blue skies. And I do mean blue.

Yesterday, while on a walk with Buddy, I heard what I thought was a hawk somewhere across the river. While I listened, a pair of trumpeter swans silently crossed the road above us, their ethereal bodies blending with the soft gray sky. I watched them, like a prayer, as they passed, and then turned my attention to the sound coming from the river where the hawk was now circling. He floated above us for a few seconds, then we watched as he glided over the treetops and out of sight.

This morning, as I watch the sunlight coming through the pines, creating shadows on the snow, patterns as fine as any found on this planet, I know life is kind and good, and this clear blue morning is as sweet as any morning that's ever been.

The photograph is of my back yard this morning.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Across the Universe

Shortly after I posted about Rene Magritte, my friend, Cletis Stump, shared with me a video by Rufus Wainwright in which one of the Magritte paintings seems to come to life, with a young Dakota Fanning wandering through. In the video, Rufus is singing John Lennon's, "Across the Universe." Later, I was reminded by fellow blogger, DJan, that today is the anniversary of John's death. She has a post which includes her poignant memory of that day. Here they are, Rufus and Dakota, John and Rene, all in one very cool video:

Yes, Dakota. Ironic, or the Universe in action?

You may find DJan's post here:

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.

The surreal is but reality that has not been disconnected from its mystery.

To be a surrealist means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen, and being always on the lookout for what has never been.

All paintings and italicized quotes by Rene Magritte ( November 1898 - August 1967)

Thank you to Tony at for posting the beautiful Magritte painting, "Empire of Light," which reminded me.

The title is alluding to a speech, "The Russian Enigma," given by Winston Churchill on October 1, 1939.

What is the true nature of reality?  That question continues to intrigue me....

Friday, December 7, 2012

Five Words I Never Thought I'd Say

I want it to snow.

The steel grey skies which seem to define November have spilled over into December and it's starting to wear. Day after day with nothing happening makes me long for simple hibernation. I can immerse myself in seed catalogues and dream of spring, but I need something to happen in the now. This morning, I was wishing the universe would surprise me with snow. And, it appears it will do just that starting tomorrow night. While I wait in sweet expectation, I have Annie Lennox to see me through. Here's one of my top five favorite songs, sung by one of the greatest song interpreters ever:

Image: the entrance to my home in November of 2010

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dreaming of Summer Along Baker Creek

It arrived in the mail a few days ago. I've left it sitting on the kitchen table so that I might peek inside from time to time, before I dive into page after page of pleasing images. On this sixth day of December, I feel a deep need rising, pulling me into the center where hedgerows of lilacs are always blooming and my soul is languishing in the highest branches of the hydrangea tree, where apple trees in the orchard are busy forming buds of eternal flowering and nasturtiums are not only edible, but life-saving, petal-soft wafers of sweet salvation on my tongue.

Pardon me while I catch my breath.

Dreams of a bountiful secret garden with words of irresistible possibility spring forth from inside this need, inside these pages. Amaranth alone could hold me hostage for a day. Listen ...

Early Splendor: "Incandescent crimson foliage, angular and recurved, eventually morphing to a rich cocoa-brown, " and what more could be said than the name of Love Lies Bleeding Red?

Artichokes, Cardoons, and asparagus: "Beloved early-spring crop in Europe since ancient times, asparagus is a perennial plant that starts slow but yields for many years ..."

Who could resist  the history of the Knife River squash?  "Color is usually salmon pink to buff, with an occasional green fruit. The variety originated when three Indian tribes, the Hidatsa, Arikara and Mandan, were living in close proximity for protection, near the confluence of the Missouri and Knife rivers. An excellent grower on vigorous vines. Superb flavor with a unique sweetness."

Then, there's the Prosperosa eggplant: "Massive fruits are nearly round to slightly teardrop shaped, and sometimes very slightly ribbed. Their rich dark purple exterior also glistens with a satiny green sheen ... the white flesh as good as the fruit looks, being mild, tender ... grown for generations in Tuscany."

Perhaps the simple garden pea, elevated to new heights in the Blue Podded Blauwschokkers (truly): "A beautiful and ornamental pea that produces lovely purple-blue pods that can be harvested young and used as a snow-pea, or let mature and shell for fine soup peas ... dates back hundreds of years in Europe."

And this, an ode to the Stelley okra:
"Louisiana variety originally collected
in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana,
at the heart of Cajun heritage and culture,
where it was found growing near an old,
abandoned homestead nearly fifty years ago ..."

Oh, Sweet Passion, I mustn't forget the melons: "According to legend, the sweet orange flesh is said to cause a state of passion if eaten straight from the garden on a moonlit summer night ..." How does one resist that?  Is it even possible?

And I didn't even touch on the herbs: Persian basil, blue hyssop, lion's tail mint, and Moldavian balm, used for "lightening a discouraged heart."

Sigh ...

Perhaps I'll just take a little nap over there by the window, where the sunlight is beginning to play on the corners of the windowsill ...

"Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il avait en moi un ete invincible."

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." ~ Albert Camus

Images are my photographs. The cover of the catalog is of zinnias, Senorita Pink.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Psalms According to Antony

When Antony first walked onto the stage in the Leonard Cohen documentary, "I'm Your Man," and began to sing, I was utterly transfixed. I couldn't take my eyes off him. This odd looking angel appeared as though out of the mist, transported here from another world, a modern day David singing a psalm to the universe itself. Here he is singing Leonard's "If It Be Your Will."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trembling to Tell

I cannot tell you why I love this little poem by William Kloefkorn, but I do....

"I Stand Alone at the Foot"

I stand alone at the foot   
Of my father’s grave,   
Trembling to tell:   
The door to the granary is open,   
And someone lost the bucket   
To the well.

~William Kloefkorn  (August 1932 - May 2011)

The photograph is mine.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

For Just One Moment

Not much is happening out there today. As I pour the bird seed over the feeder I hear only the faint call of bird song. They've probably been wondering where I've been, leaving the feeder almost empty in yesterday's late afternoon, as I sat in a movie theater watching Daniel Day-Lewis become President Lincoln, and wondering why this country has always preferred war over peaceful resolution, has always wanted what others have instead of opening up its eyes to all the possibilities inherent in what we do have: sunshine, wind, and people with good souls and loving hearts. Certainly by now, we must be growing weary of the bodies in the mud and the sand.

I recall a day very near this one in feeling when I was probably thirteen years old. We had not yet moved from our small farm to the house on the lake. It was wash day, which always felt interminable. Lines of sheets and towels spread everywhere. But, in this moment, the last of the laundry was being removed so I stopped to listen more closely to a bird that seemed to be calling my name. As I listened my thoughts drifted to a Beatles song, "Nowhere Man," and I began to sing it softly to myself. I have no idea why that moment remains etched in my memory but there it is, as though it just happened.

Down in the hollow, on this morning, everything is still, and then a bird calls, loudly and persistently, to remind me that there is more happening in the world than I could ever see or hear, like the ice thawing and dripping from the edge of the cabin's metal roof onto the dead leaves below. As I listen, I sense the presence of the two little raccoon that spent the summer with me, tucked into the corner of the cabin, leaving me bereft with their passing. But, what if they didn't really leave? What if I dreamed it all out of fear and indecision, out of a learning that must now be unlearned?   What if they're still here but I can't see them?  What if all of life is concealed in the quiet of this moment, the only moment there ever really is?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On This First Morning in December

This morning, I'm just going to let William Stafford speak for me. He always does such a beautiful job of it....

"Any Morning"

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

~ William Stafford

Painting by N.C. Wyeth